Bad Robot

In these days of constant technological innovation, you almost expect to read about new marvels in robotics and “smart” technology on a daily basis.  But sometimes technological advancements aren’t really advancements at all.

russia-fake-robotConsider Boris the Robot, lauded on Russian TV as a cutting-edge development in robotics with the ability to walk, talk and dance.  Boris appeared on a broadcast, spoke in a robotic voice about his desire to learn to draw, and then danced to a song called Skibidi.  The broadcast said Boris’ dancing was “not that bad.”

But skeptics of Boris abounded.  How in the world could Boris move around without any observable external sensors, they wondered.  And why did the robot make so many “unnecessary movements” while dancing?  (A standard one hopes is never applied to human dancers, incidentally.)  And it also was suspicious that Boris just happened to be configured in a way that would have allowed a human being to be inside.

And then the illusion all came crashing down when a photo of Boris from behind showed a clearly visible section of human neck between Boris’ head and body.  Alas, Boris was in fact a guy in a robot suit — a robot suit specifically designed to give people “the near total illusion that before you stands a real robot.”

It just goes to show that it pays to retain a bit of skepticism about claimed technological advancements.  Before you buy that touted “smart” appliance, consider whether it’s really all that “smart” after all.  And before you go ga ga over a robot doing a twitching dance to modern music, be sure to check the neck area.

The New, Very New, Newest New Coach

Hey, the Browns have a new head coach!  What year is this, anyway?  2014?  2013?  2011? Or, pick just about any year before that?

hue_jackson_web_01_10_2012Look, Hue Jackson seems like a perfectly capable assistant coach.  ESPN thinks he was a good hire, and the fact that he is apparently committed to unload embarrassing butthead Johnny Manziel certainly is a point in his favor.  Some say Jackson is a “perception-changing” hire for the Browns, too.  But let’s face it — we’ve heard the song and dance about how the prior hires, from Mike Pettine going back through all of his predecessors before him, were uniquely trained and qualified and positioned to lead the Browns out of the grim, we’re a laughingstock team that will suck and lose NFL games in impossible ways forever wilderness.  Of course, none of them did.  They all failed miserably, just like the coaches before them did.

Why should I believe Hue Jackson will do any better?  No offense, but it’s not like his prior coaching experience with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders has involved Super Bowl wins.  And every Browns fan remembers how Romeo Crennel, with his New England Patriots Super Bowl rings and defensive know-how, was supposed to turn around the Browns’ fortunes, or how Butch Davis, with his Miami Hurricanes’ national championship fresh in memory, was supposed to do the same.  It didn’t happen for them, or for any of the other would-be Browns saviors, either — and this year, with the NFL playoffs underway, the Browns are on the outside looking in, just like always.

il_214x170-890063290_27m0So I’m going to reserve judgment on Hue Jackson.  What will it take for me to start trusting the hype?  Getting rid of Manziel and his colossal head-case ego, planning and executing a competent draft, and making intelligent free agent acquisitions would be a good start.  But I’m not going to move back to Believeland until the Browns win a few games — in fact, enough to make the playoffs.

If that happens, I’ll gladly admit that, by being skeptical of what might be accomplished by Hue Jackson, I was a Huge Jackass.

The End Of Snow . . . Really?

There’s an interesting and provocative piece in the New York Times about global warming entitled “The End of Snow?”

The article addresses the effect of warming temperatures on the ski industry, but it’s really about global warming generally. It urges a “national policy shift on how we create and consume energy” if we want to keep our mountains white in the winter.

IMG_5789Given the terribly cold winter we’ve had, and the amount of snowfall we’ve seen, it’s tempting to give a flippant answer like: “The end of snow? Bring it on!” But of course one harsh winter and days of sub-zero temperatures does not disprove any long-term global warming theory, and the dire predictions of some climatologists are no laughing matter. If the Earth really is irreversibly becoming warmer and warmer, and if — and it’s a big if — the warming is due to human activity, then any rational person should be concerned.

On climate change, I don’t know what to think. It seems like you can find a study or results to support just about any position. Temperatures have stabilized over the last decade or so. Arctic icecaps are melting and some glaciers are retreating, but Antarctic ice is growing. Is the cause of warming trends “greenhouse gases,” or sunspot activity? The most alarmist predictions of global warming scientists — and Al Gore — haven’t been realized. Does that mean there’s not really a problem, or just that we’ve hit a brief cessation in a long-term trend that will continue next year?

I tend to be skeptical about over-the-top predictions, and I’m particularly skeptical when people say that there is no reason for skeptical consideration any longer — which is what many climatologists have contended. It seems to me that science should always involve a willingness to test and revisit theory. But where do you go to find an honest and objective assessment of the science of global warming, by someone who doesn’t seem motivated by a clear agenda favoring one side or the other?